Archive for April, 2010

1910: the end of April

April 30, 2010

Shano Collins

This is the first monthly update celebrating the centennial of the 1910 season. 

The end of April saw the season two weeks old. Teams had played between nine and 15 games. The World Champion Pirates were in first place in the National League, percentage points ahead of the Giants. The Phillies and Cubs also had winning records, while the other four teams had winning percentages in .300s. At 4-9, the Brooklyn Superbas were dead last. 

In the American League the defending champion Tigers at 8-4 were a game ahead of the Athletics. New York, Boston, and Cleveland all had winning records, while the Browns were in last place at 3-6. 

Individually, Addie Joss had tossed a no-hitter, Ty Cobb was off to a fast start, and John McGraw hadn’t been tossed from a game yet. There were a handful of rookies who came up after the season started. Two are significant. Duffy Lewis made his first appearance in left field for the Red Sox on 16 April. He would become a mainstay of the Boston dynasty that dominated much of the later teens. Lesser known, but also important, was Shano Collins. He first showed up with the White Stockings on 21 April. He was still around in 1917 to help the Sox win a World Series and again played in 1919 with the “Black Sox.” He was one of the “Clean Sox.” 

It’s much too early in the season to make any generalizations, but so far the Highlanders (Yankees) are the surprise of the AL while the failure of Cincinnati to rise above seventh place is the surprise of the AL. In the next month, things will change.

Baseball as Myth: the Trickster

April 29, 2010

The second of my three views of the relationship between baseball and myth concentrates on the mythological figure of the trickster. He’s the closest myth comes to a comic relief guy (guess they didn’t know about drama, huh?). Our trickster is a clever god or person who is able to play tricks on the unsuspecting foil with either funny or horrifying results. In Norse myth it’s Loki, for the Greeks it’s Hermes. Odysseus gets into the act sometimes also. The “No Man” line in the Odyssey is about as close as Homer gets to humor.

Baseball has its set too. Let’s start by dropping the clowns. These guys aren’t what I’m talking about. You may have seen them at the ballpark. They’re not around much anymore, but these were guys who showed up at the stadium and for a fee ran around doing goofy things, insulting the Ump, harassing coaches, etc, trying to be baseball’s version of the Harlem Globetrotters. Now mostly mascots do this sort of thing. What I’m talking about are the showmen who put a bit of levity into the game. For our purposes there are three preeminent among these: Dizzy Dean, Satchel Paige, and Yogi Berra. I’ve done a post of Dean before so let me look at the other two.

Paige honed his skills in the Negro Leagues. He wasn’t overtly funny most of the time, and is perhaps the very best great player who also gets credit as a trickster. He had a great wit, but was most famous for what he did with his playing ability to frustrate the opposition. The stories are legion. A couple of my favorites include telling the other team before the game starts what pitches he’s going to throw today and having his infield sit down (or leave the field) while he strikes out the side. Great bits of showmanship and trickery (Trickeration?). He was also good with a line. The most famous being “Don’t look back, something might be gaining on you.” Actually not bad advice.

Yogi Berra on the other hand didn’t give out good advice. He simply blew the English language (as did Casey Stengel, but Ol’ Case was a manager and I’m doing only players). I’m not sure how much of Yogi’s stuff was put on to amuse the crowd and how much was simply goofiness, but it made such a mark that he’s obscured just how good a player he was. This man won three MVP’s in an era when Mickey Mantle played on the same team. He may be the greatest catcher in Major League history and he’s most known for his attacks on the English language. My favorite Yogiisms:

“Nobody goes there anymore, it’s too crowded.”

When asked if he wanted his pizza cut into six or eight pieces, “Make it six, I don’t think I can eat eight.”

And from the Aflac commercial “And they give you cash, which is just as good as money.” (OK, I know the last one was done by ad writers, but you gotta admit it’s great.)

Baseball as Myth: The Doomed Youth

April 27, 2010

One of the more common types in world mythology is the doomed youth. Sometimes he’s seen as the doomed warrior. The basic plot goes something like this. The young man (it’s always a man) is very heroic and very brave and is going to die at a young age. Sometimes he knows it, sometimes he doesn’t.  Whether he does or doesn’t, he goes out and like a good hero bravely reacts to whatever situation faces him, although eventually he will die. There are a lot of good examples of this but two are most familiar: Achilles and Siegfried. The Achilles of the Iliad  knows that if he goes to Troy to fight he will die, but goes anyway because he knows that he will be eternally famous. Siegfried on the other hand doesn’t know he will die young, but goes about doing heroic deeds like slaying Fafner the dragon until Hagan stabs him in the back. (BTW you might want to look at the Siegfried of the Nibelungenlied, not the Wagnerian hero of the operas to get a better view of the figure.)

Well, baseball has its doomed youth also. Addie Joss died young, so did Jimmie Sebring. Herb Score didn’t die, but he was hurt so bad that his career ended prematurely. Those are the kinds of situations that baseball brings to the doomed youth scenario. For the sport, there are two premier figures that moved into myth this way.

Lou Gehrig is much the more tragic because he actually did die. Much of the tragedy of Gehrig is that it was his body, the very thing on which is fame and glory rested, that let him down. He is struck down at the height of that fame and glory. And in the midst of this tragedy he goes to his doom with grace and dignity. It helps his legend that he plays for the most famous team (the Yankees) on the biggest stage (New York) and is one of the handful of players who define the team.

The other more recent player who fits this mold is Sandy Koufax. Koufax’s story is less tragic because he lives. His problem is an arthritic elbow, not a deadly problem, but certainly a career ending condition. Again, at the top of his form and fame he is forced off the stage. There is of course a difference, the decision is voluntary. And here you have a variation on the doomed youth theme in that the youth voluntarily steps off the stage, but also does it with great dignity. As I said on the introductory post, these are not going to be exact copies of myths because they involve real people. Koufax, like Gehrig, is also helped by playing for one of the more famous teams (the Dodgers) in baseball and by playing on one of its biggest stages (Los Angeles).

In fairness, it’s not all about the doomed youth. Both men played for famous franchises and were spectacular players. That can’t be overlooked. But in my opinion that isn’t the only reason they remain staples of baseball’s pantheon. Another part of the reason is the loss so soon of such great talent.

So in some ways both men become legends for what we lost as much as for what they actually accomplished. That’s part of the whole idea of losing a young talented leader, of a doomed youth.

Baseball as Myth: an Introduction

April 26, 2010

Back around the beginning of the month I asked for some input into ball players who transcended baseball and became almost mythological figures. I got some good responses and have used the time to sit around (any excuse to sit around is welcome) and contemplate. So I’m going to take a look over the next few days at some specifics, but today I want to give something of a background to explain what’s about to go on.

Back in the 1920’s Milman Parry began studying epic myth and laid the foundations for modern study of mythology. His specific work dealt with the Homeric poems, especially the Iliad. Without going into any kind of detail that can and probably will bore readers to tears, what Parry discovered was that there was a certain amount of sameness to what was going on. Serb heroic poetry (what Parry initially studied) sounded a lot like Homer and he began to work on figuring out why.

Parry’s work ultimately led to Joseph Campbell’s major works on world mythology. Campbell stepped away from the specifics of either the Serbs or the Greeks and began to look at overall trends. I don’t want to mislead and make you believe that Campbell figured this out all by himself. There were a lot of people who came to conclusions that were much alike at much the same time. Campbell popularized the information so that it was available for people like me and all other non-specialists to read and understand.

There were a number of conclusions. For our purposes the most significant was that mythology deals with universal types of people. In other words, most myths revolve around types rather than actual people. There’s the all-knowing leader who is above the riff raff, the wanderer, the trickster, the doomed youth, and others. Pick a mythological cycle in any two societies and you see the same types emerge no matter how far apart geographically the societies are. (I’m vastly oversimplifying this so don’t take it as Gospel.). Some figures, such as Odysseus in Greek mythology, can hold more than one role (wanderer and trickster).

I will argue that baseball comes up with the same types to create its myths. Over the next few posts I want to give some examples of players who fall into some of the groups. My guess is that most of you, upon reading the above, will be able to figure who’s going where before even reading those posts. You’ll  probably also agree and disagree with my conclusions. Feel free to comment, but beware. As one of the all-knowing leaders above the riff raff I may toss a lightning bolt in your direction.

Opening Saturday

April 24, 2010

When I was a kid, Opening Day meant nothing to me. Heck, I was in school when the baseball season started. My teacher insisted I sit and learn something instead of go home and listen to the radio. For instance, she wanted me to learn history (there was a lot less of it back then) and English, and penmanship. Then there was homework (Any of you remember homework?). By the time I was done, the games were over and all I got was the scores on the evening sportscast. Big deal.

But, Opening Saturday was different. I lived with my grandparents and Granddad was a baseball fan. He loved the Cardinals and I was a Dodgers fan (don’t ask).  He was absolutely certain that Stan Musial was the greatest player since Alexander Cartwright invented the game.  “That fella in Boston is OK, but Musial can do anything and do it well,” he’d say. And me? I loved Jackie Robinson. By the mid-1950s he was no longer the best Brooklyn player (both Duke Snider and Roy Campanella were better), but he still made the team go and I wanted to be him. Somebody finally reminded me that he had a much deeper tan than I, so I decided I’d become the light Jackie Robinson. Turns out I didn’t.

The centerpiece of the day was the afternoon game of the week. There were two on Saturday afternoon, one on CBS and the other on NBC. We’d turn on the TV, see who was playing, pick the game we wanted, then settle down to watch the magic box in the corner. I think there was a rule back then that TV’s had to be in the corner of the room.  I didn’t know anyone whose TV was anywhere else.

We had a couple of rules. First, Grandma had to leave us alone. She would fuss around the house telling us we were lazy louts, then go off to sew, or read, or go next door and visit with another baseball widow. We could have cared less because we had two games to watch. That was the second rule. When the commercial breaks came on, we could change the channel and see how the other game was going. This was back when TV’s had knobs (You remember knobs?) and Granddad would leap up at “And now a word from our sponsors”, flip the channel, and God help the network if the other game was also in commercial (I didn’t know Granddad knew those kinds of words.). The third rule was that you couldn’t change channel if either the Cardinals or the Dodgers were playing, especially if they were playing each other. I wasn’t sure, but I had the feeling that changing the channel in this circumstance somehow involved sin and hell and damnation.

When the game ended, Granddad would cut off the TV then start telling me about baseball when he was younger. He’d seen Walter Johnson in an exhibition game somewhere along the line and listened to Babe Ruth on the radio.  He never bought off on that geezer idea that somehow the players were all better when he was a kid. He liked and admired the old-time players, but he recognized the greatness of the new generation. “That Mays kid looks like he’s gonna be real good,” he’d tell me, “but that kid pitcher, Drysdale, your Dodgers got seems a little wild.”  And what he thought about Koufax’s wildness was not to be repeated around Grandma. Of course none of them was Musial and that was all there was to it.

About five Grandma would call us for dinner. We always had leftovers on Saturday night. She called it cleaning out the fridge for the new week. Grandma claimed not to like baseball and knew we were lazy louts, but there was fried chicken. Every Opening Saturday there was fried chicken, every time. Granddad would always ask “What’s for dinner?” and her reply was always “We had some extra chicken so I just fried it up for tonight.” He’d wink at me as we went into the kitchen. It took a few years to catch the joke.

Old Ball Cards

April 23, 2010

I’m not much of a baseball card freak. I had some as a kid and, the story is almost clichéd now, my mom told me to get rid of them because I was too old to have them. I’ve still got a few, but don’t worry much about them. I recognize, though, that there are people who do.

The tobacco card goes back into the 19th Century and I don’t propose to go on and on about the history of the damn things, but I want to give you a couple of web addresses where you can go to see what all the fuss is about. I want to concentrate on two sets: t-205 and t-206.

T-205/6 are the big sets from the 1910 era. There are close to 1000 total cards in the two sets combined, including the famous Honus Wagner that is so valuable. They actually look pretty good if you understand the stylized nature of the 206 set. There are only a handful of poses on the 206 set and the face and uniform are simply changed to fit the player. The 205 is more face shots.

You can go to a place called T-206.com and there’s a long set of pages about the set. The site seems more concerned with the backs than the player pictures, but there are links to sites that show the fronts of the cards. Down on the bottom left is a link to a T-205.com website that does the same thing for the smaller set.

There are a couple of places where you can see copies of the sets. One is T206 museum. This site has on-line copies of the set. Some of the pictures are of cards that aren’t in very good shape, but the entire set is there. At www.flickr.com/photos/traeregan/collections/ you find a link to this guy’s pictures of both the t205 and t206 sets (he’s snuck himself into the 206 set). These are obviously copies of the originals and do a good job showing the cards as if they were pristine. He’s cut the bottom off each picture (no name or team shown) and there’s a t206.com logo on the bottom right so the pictures are not exact copies of the cards, but you can still see what the fronts looked like (no backs). I presume you must have his permission to include a copy on your own site or blog, but don’t know that for certain (I don’t intend to do so).

If you’re interested in these old-time cards, take a look and enjoy.

Opening Day, 1910: Washington

April 22, 2010

Walter Johnson

When George Washington died in 1799, former Revolutionary War leader Lighthorse Harry Lee (who became most famous for being the father of Robert E. Lee) gave this eulogy, “Washington, first in war, first in peace, and first in the hearts of his countrymen.” In baseball this was frequently paraphrased, “Washington, first in war, first in peace, and last in the American League.” The 1909 season ended with the Senators in last place, 56 games out and 20 games out of seventh. There was little prospect for 1910 to be significantly better. 

At the end of the 1909 season, the Senators canned manager Joe Cantillon, replacing him with Jimmy McAleer. Now there was an upgrade. McAleer was the just fired manager of the Browns who managed to finish exactly one spot ahead of Washington in the standings, seventh (OK, they were 20 games closer to first, but still ya gotta wonder). 

The infield underwent change at the corners and up the middle (except at shortstop). Former backup Bob Unglaub replaced Jiggs Donahue at first and Kid Elberfeld came over from New York to play third. Former starter Wid Conroy now became the man off the bench. George McBride stayed at short and Red Killefer (Bill’s brother) became the new second baseman. Killefer came over from Detroit late in 1909 and moved into the starting job when the new season began. Germany Schaefer, who had done a lot of the 1909 work at second, went to the bench. 

The outfield saw one new man and one change of position. Jack Lelivelt moved from right field to left and Doc Gessler, another player who came over in mid-1909 (this time from New York) took the right field slot. Lead off hitter Clyde Milan remained in center. Conroy, the backup infielder, doubled as the fourth outfielder. 

The catcher was Gabby Street. He was a standard no hit, great field catcher of the era. Much later he went on to win a World Series as a manager with the Cardinals in 1931. Rookie Eddie Ainsmith was his backup. 

The pitching staff was uneven. Walter Johnson was the ace. His 1909 was forgettable, but when you’re Walter Johnson there’s always the possibility that the next year will be great. Bob Groom, Dolly Gray, Tom Hughes, and Charlie Smith were the other 1909 starters. Groom led the American League in walks (105) and Smith was traded during the season. Johnson was back, as were Groom and Gray. Dixie Walker (not the 1940s outfielder), who had pitched four games the previous season, took over one starting slot. Doc Reisling, who pitched 10 games in 1909, took the other. Besides Johnson, it wasn’t a particularly distinguished staff. 

The Senators, like most lower division teams, did a lot of tinkering with their roster between 1909 and 1910. They managed to find a couple of players who were pretty good (Milan and Street) and then there was Johnson. Every fourth day they were guaranteed of being competitive. It was the other three days that were the problem.This concludes a team by team look at the Major Leagues in 1910.

I intend to continue looking at 1910 for the balance of the season, but will concentrate on major events (there’s another no hitter, Cy Young wins his 500th game, etc) and a once monthly review of the standings and such. That will give all of us a break from the events of 100 years ago.

Opening Day, 1910: St. Louis (AL)

April 21, 2010

Bobby Wallace

It’s uncharitable to say that the St. Louis Browns were hopeless, but sometimes the truth hurts. The Browns were hopeless. In their entire existence, 1902-1953, they finished first once. 1910 wasn’t it.  

 The Browns finished seventh in 1909, 36 games out of first. It led to a general housecleaning, something the Browns did frequently. Manager Jimmy McAleer was canned and replaced by Jack O’Connor a former catcher whose rookie season was 1887 with the American Association Cincinnati Reds. It was his first managerial job (and his last). He would survive in the job exactly one year. 

He didn’t have a lot to work with in St. Louis. Three of the infielders were different. Future Hall of Famer Bobby Wallace remained at short, but he was 36 in 1910 and on is last legs as a player. Former right fielder Roy Hartzell moved to third base with fairly predictable results. Pat Newman and Frank Truesdale took the jobs at first and second. Both were rookies. Art Griggs and Dode Criss remained the men off the bench. Criss sometimes moonlighted as a pitcher for St. Louis. He wasn’t an upgrade. 

The outfield had two stable members, Hartzell moving to third as mentioned above. Al Schweitzer replaced Hartzell in right and Danny Hoffman and George Stone remained in the other two spots. Schweitzer had been, with John McAleese, one of the backup outfielders in 1909. 

The 1909 catcher, Lou Criger, was gone, replaced by ’09 backup Jim Stephens. The new backup was Bill Killefer who would go on to fame as Grover Cleveland Alexander’s catcher with the Phillies. Killefer played 11 games in 1909. 

The pitching in 1909 was weak, but at least none of the major starters had given up more hits than innings pitched, and only one had walked more than he struck out. In 1910 four of the big starters, Jack Powell, Barney Pelty, Bill Bailey, and Hall of Famer Rube Waddell were back. Joe Lake was new, coming over from New York. So was rookie Robert “Farmer” Ray. 

And that was it. There were new guys, but they weren’t much of an upgrade, if at all. There was a new manager, four rookies (including Killefer), and a bunch of guys nobody ever heard of. The genuinely good players like Wallace and Waddell were at the end of their careers. The 1910 season was Waddell’s final year. It was the same story for most of the Browns’ history. 

Next: the Senators

1910: Addie Joss

April 20, 2010

Today, 20 April 2010, marks the 100th anniversary of Addie Joss’ second and final no-hitter. He threw it for Cleveland against Chicago and raised his record to 2-0 for the season. Later in the year he began suffering health problems, and sat out much of the season. Within a year of his last no-hitter, he was dead. It seems fitting to take today to remember him.

He spent his entire career in Cleveland, which in the Deadball Era more or less guaranteed obscurity. The team didn’t do particularly well except occasionally, finishing as high as second in 1908. On his own team Joss was frequently overshadowed by his manager, Napoleon LaJoie. He was, however, the finest pitcher on the team.

His rookie year was 1902. In his first game, he took a no-hitter into the sixth inning, gave up one single, and won the game 3-0. In 1904 he led the American League in ERA, in 1905 he saw 20 wins and repeated the 20 wins in 1906 and 1907, tying for the league lead in wins in ’07.

Then came 1908. The year is mostly famous for the National League pennant race that included the “Merkle Game” and the replay of it. But the American League had a heck of a pennant race too. Detroit won by a half game. Cleveland and Joss finished second. Joss had 24 wins, a league leading ERA of 1.16, nine shutouts, and on 2 October threw a perfect game against Chicago (they finished third), besting 40 game winner Ed Walsh (who only gave up four hits and struck out 15 in the game). For the season Joss struck out 130. He was a control specialist, not a fireballer. He pitched in 42 games, starting 35. He gave up 42 earned runs and was on the mound for 35 unearned runs (1.2 earned runs for each unearned run). He walked only 30, meaning he gave up 1.4 runs for every walk (which is terrific). I love the unearned run stat. The fielding behind him was awful and he didn’t contribute to it by adding extra baserunners via the base on balls. For 42 earned runs (one per game) and 35 unearned runs he ended up with a 24-11 record. Tell me unearned runs don’t matter.

He fell back in 1909. Apparently his illness was beginning to affect him. His ERA jumped to 1.70 (from 1.16 that’s a jump), he went 14-13, and ceded the Cleveland ace role to newly acquired Cy Young (OK, so almost nobody else is the ace if Young is around). He got back in 1910 but only made it into 13 games.

One of those games was 100 years ago today. Again he faced Chicago. In the second inning Fred Parent, playing short for the White Stockings, hit a roller to Cleveland third baseman Bill Bradley. Bradley juggled the ball, and Parent was safe at first. The official scorer called it a hit. Sometime during the game, the scorer changed his mind and recorded the play as an error on Bradley. I’ve been unable to determine exactly when that occurred. If early, then it may have had no effect on the game, but if the scorer changed it in say the seventh inning or so, then he may have been purposefully aiding Joss in getting a no-hitter. Frankly, I just don’t know. I do know that Joss walked only two men and recorded 10 assists from the mound during the game. At the end of the day the score stood 1-0 Cleveland over Chicago and Joss had his second no-hitter. I looked it up and barring failing eyes that are worse than I think (and they may be) Joss is the only person to throw two no hitters against the same team and have identical scores (1-0 vs. Chicago).

Joss had to sit out most of the season. He tried to come back in 1911 but collapsed on the field in Chattanooga, Tennessee. He died of tubercular meningitis on 14 April 1911, two days after opening day. His funeral was on the 17th and the Cleveland team, against the initial wishes of league president Ban Johnson, postponed their game to attend. Old-time player turned evangelist Billy Sunday preached the funeral. On 24 July an exhibition game between Cleveland and a team of American League All-Stars was held. The stars won 5-3, but the gate went to Joss’ family. It totalled $12, 914, a large sum for the era.

Joss only played nine years, making him ineligible for the Hall of Fame. In 1978, the Veteran’s Committee waived the rule and elected him to the Hall. A handful of writers and baseball stat geeks said it was a mistake. They were wrong.

Next: Back to the 1910 teams with the Browns

Opening Day, 1910: Cleveland

April 19, 2010

Addie Joss

For the first time since 1905, Cleveland began the season with a new manager. Napoleon LaJoie took over in 1905 and remained in charge until late in 1909, when old-time catcher Deacon McGuire was handed the job. It changed the team dynamic, it changed the team name (they were called the Naps in LaJoie’s honor), and it changed Lajoie’s game.

For a team that had not done well in its ten-year history, including a sixth place finish 27.5 games back in 1909, Cleveland underwent very little change in the field for 1910. George Stovall stayed at first, LaJoie at second, and Bill Bradley at third. Terry Turner, the former backup middle infielder, took over at short. It wasn’t a particularly distinguished infield, except for LaJoie. Only LaJoie hit above .250 in 1909 and Bradley finished at .186. LaJoie had been on a downward spiral since taking over the managerial spot. There was some hope that released from those duties, he might return to the former player who won a triple crown in 1901, and batting titles on 1903 and ’04.  Neal Ball and George Perring were the infield backups. Ball was the starting shortstop in ’09 and Perring was a holdover.

The outfield saw two of three starters change. Joe Birmingham was a good fielding, decent hitting center fielder with little speed on the bases, a common trait in Cleveland,despite the prevailing strategy of the era. John Graney and Art Kruger were both new. Both had played a little for Cleveland in previous years (’08 for Graney and ’07 for Kruger), but were never regulars. Briscoe Lord remained the backup outfielder. It wasn’t a big hitting outfield and wasn’t a particular improvement over the 1909 version.

Ted Easterly remained the backstop. He hit .261 the year before and shared time with backups Nig Clark, and Harry Bemis. Both remained in 1910, but Clark ended up hurt and Grover Land became the third catcher.  Easterly would have a good year with the bat.

A real strength of the Cleveland team, if it had one, was its aging pitching staff. The problem was the “aging” part. Cy Young was 43 at the end of the 1909 season. Addie Joss, Bob Rhodes, and Cy Falkenberg were all 30. Among the starters, only Heinie Berger was under 30 (he was 27). For 1910 they kept all but Rhodes who disappears from major league rosters forever. They tried Willie Mitchell and Specs Harkness to fill in the gaps for age and loss. Mitchell pitched three games the year before and Harkness was a rookie.

Cleveland is a difficult team to figure. There are spots where they are pretty good (second, catcher, specific pitchers), but there are spots where they lack quality (third, the corner outfield, other pitchers). It’s a team that could rise, but if anybody gets hurt, or anything goes wrong, they could be in trouble. Late in the year they will bring up a 20-year-old rookie outfielder named Joe Jackson. He looks to have some talent.

Next: a break from the monotony of team-by-team to celebrate the accomplishments of Addie Joss.